Children from Bradford Mobile Homes Park find mentors and representation through Boys and Girls Night

Hadasa Rivera Marin, Reporter

More than 10 years ago, an App State student said he felt the “calling of God” to do something positive in his community. On Nov. 11, he and his wife acted on that call.

JB and Laura Byrch started Boys and Girls Nights in 2010 to positively impact their community and children from Bradford Mobile Homes Park, located off Bamboo Road near U.S. Route 221. The newest part of which includes bringing the children on campus to be around those with similar identities as them, and on Nov. 11, to a Hispanic Student Association gathering.

JB Byrch is the boys night program coordinator, and Laura Byrch is the pastor of community engagement at Boone United Methodist Church.

The boys from the trailer park meet every Sunday and Thursday and the girls meet every Monday. Their nights include playing games, watching movies, bowling, playing basketball and dancing.

Laura Byrch said with this program, they’re trying to “create another narrative” and celebrate the children and where they come from. 

JB Byrch said he met Emily Foycie during his time as an App State student. She ran a children’s ministry in the trailer park through Mount Vernon Baptist.

 JB Byrch said at the time, it was only girls getting together, so Foycie suggested he try and put something together for the boys who lived there because some of their dads weren’t around or not positive influences, so the boys constantly got into trouble. 

Hadasa Rivera Marin
Laura Byrch (left) is the pastor of community engagement at Boone United Methodist Church, and JB Byrch (right) is the Boys and Girls Night program coordinator. The two started Boys and Girls Night in 2010 to serve as a positive impact on the children of Bradford Mobile Homes Park.

After that conversation, JB Byrch said he and his friend walked around the trailer park and “just knocked on doors” to try to get boys to come and play basketball with them.

JB Byrch said he and some of the children played basketball once a week for an hour. He said over time they began to meet more often and longer. 

The Byrches said they have found the children look up to HSA students and connect with them because they’re encouraged to see someone they can relate to. 

JB Byrch said when the children think of the phrase “college kids,” they imagine  “wealthy white kids.” He doesn’t believe all college kids are like that.

He said a huge part of why he and his wife have this program is because they want to decenter whiteness and lift up “latinidad.” 

“Decentering whiteness means acknowledging that whiteness does not have the power to decide what is normal, good or beautiful. It’s going out of our way to defy the single story we often hear about Latinx culture and see its beauty, strengths and goodness,” JB Byrch said.  

Uplifting latinidad entails celebrating a culture and the people who form a part of it. 

JB Byrch said he wants the children in the program to value their diversity. He wants them to know it’s special. 

“God made them different, and it’s beautiful. It’s not ugly, it’s not less than, it’s not small, it’s diverse,” JB Byrch said. “You have gifts that other people don’t have. You have advantages that other people don’t have because of who you are.’”

He said their goal is to make children understand that although they may look different and have “brown hair, brown skin and brown eyes” they too can be successful. 

Laura Byrch said the first mentor for the program, Juan Sanchez, was in HSA, and she still sees him talking to the children. 

 “I felt it was important to participate, as all my life, I felt like I never had a role model that looked like me, never any Hispanic role models or anyone close to me or my family that went to college,” Sanchez said.

The Byrches said it’s important to continue celebrating leaders of color, particularly Latinx leaders, so children everywhere can look around and say, “We’re having leaders who look like us.” 

HSA declined to interview for this story.